America's Best New Wine Bars
"Detroit?" says Remy Lutfy. "Just in the past four years it's crazy how much has changed." That includes the revivified Paradise Valley neighborhood, where Lutfy's wine bar Vertical Detroit opened last year, near the turn-of-the-century-era Detroit Athletic Club. The clientele is a cross-section of the city: "Black, white, young, old—we see everyone," Lutfy says. The outstanding wine list, co-written with her father, Jim (a longtime wine retailer and Vertical's co-owner), hits familiar names like Caymus as well as unusual ones like Beaujolais star Damien Coquelet. "Our main goal is to take the intimidation factor out of wine," Lutfy says. Chef Alex Knezevic's menu does that, too, with inescapably wine-friendly dishes like sautéed scallops with smoky charred scallions. 1538 Centre St., Detroit; verticaldetroit.com.
The Four Horsemen
"I went right into punk rock," LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy says about his entry into wine. By that he means natural wines: the no-sulfur, no-additives, no-intervention bottles featured at his instantly popular wine bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The place feels a little like the basement rec room of the coolest family on the planet—hanging globe lights that recall the '70s, vintage McIntosh stereo playing The Clash's London Calling, a neo-Danish-modern vibe. Chef Nick Curtola's food skews Italian-Iberian, and ranges from snack-size (absurdly good escabeche-style olives) to substantial (rich tajarin pasta with rock shrimp and chiles). But possibly the best thing about The Four Horsemen is that it's an incredibly friendly place—definitely one of the few wine bars where you might find yourself discussing obscure Sicilian vineyards with a total stranger while you're both standing in line for (of course—it's Williamsburg) the unisex bathroom. 295 Grand St., Brooklyn; fourhorsemenbk.com.
There aren't many places where you can order a glass of wine made before World War II. But depending on the day and your luck, you sometimes can at Augustine. Sommelier Matthew Kaner's brilliant idea at this Sherman Oaks, California, bar is to sell unusual older wines by the glass, many from partner (and former Gigolo Aunts frontman) David Gibbs's huge collection. The often-changing blackboard of choices has featured vintages back to 1928, and, Kaner says, "We thought maybe we'd sell a bottle a week. We had no clue." To go with these cellar rarities (and the rest of the impressive list), chef Evan Algorri creates small plates that mingle both Spanish and Italian influences—though, as Kaner says, "He's had to cut the spice a little, just so as not to kill the older wines." 13456 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; augustinewinebar.com.
Houston's downtown has blown up with great cocktail bars, but as Public Services co-owner Justin Vann points out, no one had opened a wine, whiskey and sherry bar. So he, Karen Man and Justin Yu, an F&W Best New Chef 2014, launched one. Cask-finished Scotches jostle with aged fino sherries and somm-favorite cru Beaujolais. As for the food, everything goes with both whiskey and wine, like Yu's paprika-spiked cold fried chicken. But is Public Services a whiskey bar or a wine bar? "Both!" says Vann. "Think of it this way: We're baiting you with bourbon, so we can pull a fast one and put a Beaujolais in your face." 202 Travis St., Houston; publicservicesbar.com.
Natural-wine proselytizer Jorge Riera could convert a die-hard Napa Cabernet lover into a fan of obscure, zero-sulfur Loire reds (or whites, for that matter). And he does it nightly at this always-crowded spot on New York City's Lower East Side. Don't expect a fanatical discourse; Riera wins followers the old-fashioned way, simply by pouring tastes of great wines and explaining why he loves them. Chefs Fabián von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone, known for their excellent tasting menus at Contra, here give simple ideas clever twists, as in the radishes they serve with seaweed-infused butter. Dishes like this, plus the open-to-the-street facade, make Wildair feel more like a late-night house party than a restaurant. 142 Orchard St., Manhattan; wildair.nyc.
"I spent a lot of time hitchhiking all over Europe," Union Larder co-owner Jay Esopenko says, "and for this place, I tried to piece together everything I loved from the cafés I went to on those travels." At this San Francisco bar and market, that means housemade charcuterie, cheeses from around the world (more than 60, selected by cheese sommelier Kristi Bachman, who creates custom plates based on guests' likes and dislikes) and a daily-changing wine list. "I taste about 100 wines a week," Esopenko says. "Maybe five make it onto the list. We have the stuff wine geeks love and also the stuff your mom will love." Big windows look out on the Hyde Street cable car; people drop in, find a table, sit down and start to talk. "You can come dressed to the nines or in your sweatpants," Esopenko says. Have a glass of wine or two, he says, or try the melty pork Reuben. "I have one almost daily," he admits. "I'm not sure if that's healthy, but I'm not going to worry about it for 20 years or so." 1945 Hyde St., San Francisco; unionlarder.com.
Select Oyster Bar
Select in Boston is an oyster bar and a wine bar, but chef-owner Michael Serpa thinks of it as a classic bistro, "the kind where the proprietor is involved in everything—taking orders from behind the bar, picking the wines, even fixing the toilet." Serpa plays all those roles and more: The menu is his (he was chef at Boston's acclaimed Neptune Oyster for seven years), and he designed the space (clean lines, exposed brick, a long communal table). He also chooses the wines (unusual for a chef), ones that pair beautifully with seafood dishes like the mussels with carrot romesco. Bright, crisp whites are his focus. "I like to eat crudo and oysters and drink Chablis, Sancerre and white Burgundy," Serpa says, and his customers do, too. Surprisingly, Serpa only offers six kinds of oysters every day. "I've been ordering oysters for 10 years, and if you have 12 varieties on your menu, 90 percent of the time you'll have two that are not so great. So I select the six best. That's how I got the name of the restaurant." 50 Gloucester St., Boston; selectboston.com.
"Outside of Burgundy, I never really found a place where I could try traditional Burgundian food with great Burgundy, in a café-like setting," Les Clos owner Mark Bright says. So, in his off-hours as wine director of San Francisco's acclaimed Saison, he built one. He displays bottles of Burgundy on racks throughout the bar: more than 2,000 selections, "from Chablis all the way down to Beaujolais," Bright says. Many are older vintages, from the '90s back to the '30s, that he brought over himself from France; even for the rare wines, prices are only $50 to $75 above retail. The menu by chef Shawn Gawle is inspired by traditional French country food—slow-braised chicken Basquaise with peppers and tomatoes, for instance—sticking to the uncomplicated and hearty, because the wines are the stars. "In a way, I'm trying to create a liquid library of Burgundy," Bright says. "If you poke around in those racks, you'll find a lot of fun, fascinating stuff there." 234 Townsend St., San Francisco; lesclossf.com.
Stems & Skins
Wine director Matt Tunstall's inspiration for this new wine bar in North Charleston, South Carolina? His own living room. "I wanted to open a place that just felt comfortable. I brought in my record player, my partners brought all their records, and we spin discs all night." The wine list also might have come from Tunstall's own cellar: "No one else in town had gone to the edge to showcase young winemakers and experimentation," he says. Chef Justin Croxall uses little more than a slicer, panini press and hot plate for dishes like the tuna or country ham crostini. 1070 E. Montague Ave., N. Charleston; stemsandskins.com.
The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet
"Intellectual, whimsical, naughty, fun—we're all a little of each of those after a glass of wine," Tom Powers says, regarding the name of his brand-new, multistory bar in Chicago's West Loop. In this 1880s building, wine gets equal billing with a serious cocktail list, which, unusually, specifies the alcohol content of each drink. "Some craft cocktails, two or three and you're over your skis. I like people to know what they're getting into," Powers says. What wine lovers should get into—other than the terrific, Mediterranean-inspired menu—is Champagne. Powers loves it, and so his comprehensive list of choices comes at half the usual restaurant markup. 736 W. Randolph St., Chicago; facebook.com/TheLunaticTheLoverThePoet.